I think nearly every day about shame. As a therapist, I see it in so many of my clients – people living with, and consumed by, shame. Often I have clients who are emotional eaters come to see me, completely preoccupied with negative thoughts about themselves and their bodies. They resist and refuse to release the negative self-talk and the “humor” about their weight that they use to deflect attention and support. It’s as if they don’t believe to feel good about themselves until they’ve “fixed” what’s “wrong” – usually by radically changing their diet and losing a significant amount of weight.
People’s shame is a constant companion, an albatross around their next, but it often squeezes tightest when they’re complimented. Those who live with it, feel the need to deflect or deny – to show that they “get it”, that they see how much improvement they need to be worthy. It’s automatic, when people tell them nice things or observe positive traits, there’s a big part of them that wants to hide the work they’ve done or the achievements they’ve made.
I have clients practice loving kindness meditation and I’ve been working on adding it to my own routine in the morning. Thanking my body for what it’s given me (some of the biggies: two beautiful children, feet that can run, reasonably good health) has helped me to see myself as worthy of admiration and helped me to feel like my body deserves my care, attention, time, and prioritization. I’m trying to practice just saying “thank you” when given a compliment and letting myself feel good about where I am, even if I think I have changes to make.
I didn’t realize it until recently, but when I’m given a compliment, I feel seen and observed – VULNERABLE. I know I’m not alone in being uncomfortable with that feeling. However (and thank you Brene Brown and Daring Greatly for helping me get this), the answer isn’t to deflect, hide, or avoid – it’s to lean in. I have to remind myself that letting people see me isn’t the worst thing I can do, the worst thing is to continue to hide, to continue to hoard my shame and to let it continue to poison my relationship with myself and body.